naturedance: Caltech GeoChem BS, former ITS staffer, and member of Blacker Hovse (techer geek)
Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships Seminar Day

SURF students give oral or poster presentations of their summer research projects at this annual event, to be held on October 15th on campus.

Registration is at 9 a.m. in Winnett quad, near the Red Door coffee shop. A $20 registration fee includes materials, presentations, lunch, and refreshments.

Details: and
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (Default)
There was just a 5.3 earthquake about 85 miles inland from here. Edited To Add: The automatic ranking listed it as a 5.3, but after the seismologists reviewed it, it's now listed as a 4.9...

The painted eggs dangling from the ceiling in the living room continue to be interesting seismometers, and the cats are a bit jumpy. No worries.
naturedance: Caltech GeoChem BS, former ITS staffer, and member of Blacker Hovse (techer geek)
I overcommitted myself on volunteering with the SFP folks this year, thinking I could do anything at all to help during business hours in September, but aside from that, I feel really good about what I did manage to do to help out this year.

(Reminder to self: it's all right to volunteer for things in July, August, or October, but NOT SEPTEMBER WHEN ITS-RELATED WORK WILL EAT YOU ALIVE, ok?)

I did two half-hour orientation sessions for prospective students (mostly high schoolers) and their parents, and a few local teachers. My goal was to provide an introduction to Caltech, an overview of SURF, a description of what Seminar Day is, and a few tips to help them get the most of it, and then I take questions from them. All in 25 minutes or less. :-) I love doing this sort of thing.

I need to get the latest pamphlets from Admissions and the Alumni Association for alumni recruiters so I'm up to speed on the latest news on campus.

Seriously... I work there every business day, I eat lunch on campus most days, and I still don't know even an overview of everything that's going on!

Last night, we watched Real Genius over dinner, and I dug out my Legends of Caltech and More Legends of Caltech books and a few of my college photo albums. I've been tripping down memory lane for a lot of varied reasons lately, and it seemed pertinent.

And then I read the latest campus newspaper, the first part of this year's catalog, an outreach booklet called Caltech 101, an update newsletter about the capital campaign from last fall, and this year's introduction booklet that all incoming undergraduates get from the Deans Office. Now I know... what I don't know. Or rather, what I want to know more about. But I'm still sure I'm missing out on hearing about something really cool that's happening, because it's all happening so much all over campus.

I want to see if I qualify to do recruitment meetings in Indiana. If so, the next time I go home to visit my folks, I could have an info session the way one or two guys did when I was in high school.

I want to keep myself more up to date on what the alumni groups are doing.

I want to shift my hours so I have more quiet time in the office to get my backlog of web development and retirement DONE. I'm tired of feeling like I'm too far behind on things to leave my desk or go home.

So after the orientation sessions this morning, I was kind of an outreach floater for the rest of the morning, talking with anyone who had questions and then nearly filling in as a judge in one session because the fellow was running late. Then I went to the session chair training meeting at 11:15, and then lunch at noon. I sat with some SURFers, a high schooler and his Dad, and S, and Roommate. This was her first in-person introduction to SURF, and it felt great to share a window on this part of my Caltech experience with her. Her college experience was so different in some ways from mine; it's been great comparing notes and getting a broader view of the world.

I chatted with random folks for a bit and then we went to chill out in Moore courtyard, and then we made sure all of the AV equipment in the session room was working. I chaired a mini-session, only four talks, in Aeronautics this year. Fascinating stuff.

After that was followup with my session's judge and schmoozing with the other SURF volunteers and the SFP ladies.

The semifinal round of the Perpall Speaking Competition are in November. I heartily encourage anyone within range of Pasadena to attend.

I wanted to check if something of mine was still lurking in the undergrad long-term storage area, but we couldn't find it, so it looks like it's been put to other use by now. Since we were already down in the SAC, we did a quick tunnel over to Throop, a slow saunter around Milliken Pond and Beckman Institute, and then found the car and hit Zono Sushi for dinner.

SURF Seminar Day always tesseracts past and present for me. Oci being sick lately has had me thinking about when I got her, too, and that was my first summer SURFing. I feel much closer to the 19 and 20 year old I was when I was SURFing those two summers than I normally do nowadays, and it's a strange feeling. Also, my Caltech entering class' ten year reunion is coming up next spring.

Having Roommate there, talking with her about why I care about SURF and why I care about Caltech, and seeing her reactions to her first batch of SURF talks... it provided some anchor here in the present for me, one I hadn't really figured out that I needed. Rather than getting linked to my past, today somehow felt different, like present was linking with past and past with present. Rather than looking at my present self from the perspective of my younger self, I feel more like I'm looking at my younger self from my present self.

I don't quite have the words to describe what's rattling around between my ears just now, but... ah, at least I've tried. :-)

I wish my parents lived closer so they could come see a day full of SURF talks.

I wish I could somehow hook up a USB drive to my skull and put what this place has meant to me in mental pictures and feelings so that others could just see it and feel it...

Anyway, we just came home and, on a whim, went for a quick soak in the hot tub. It started raining while we were down there, and it felt great.

I now feel something of a cross between a teabag and a baked potato. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

And now it is time for comfy PJs and hot spiced cider. Mmmmmmm.

What a fantastic day!!
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
I was walking across campus to my car last evening feeling pretty tired but pretty pleased with progress on things lately.

We're short-handed and things haven't always been going as expected, but we're doing OK. I'd stayed late to finish handling some urgent requests for help that we hadn't had time to answer during the afternoon. It worked out well that I'd stayed late, since S had called to confirm that yes, I'm still willing to volunteer on SURF Seminar Day in October, and yes, I'm still willing to help call other SURF alumns to see if they're willing to help out as well.

On my way, I passed a bare-footed student with long hair, a woman playing badminton on the lawn with her toddler (who was squealing happily every time she hit the birdie), and a man and woman animatedly talking in Yet Another Language I Didn't Recognize. I was leaving too late in the evening to see any of the frisbee games that are usually happening on Beckman Lawn, but bagpipe music was sort of floating on the wind as I walked past the gene pool fountains and through the Beckman Institute arches and the courtyard, admiring the last colors of the sunset.

Gosh, I love this place.

I really do. I feel about as at home in that courtyard as I feel in my parents' backyard. It's such a strange feeling sometimes. And it always makes me want to do just that much more for the place.

I listened to K-Mozart in the car yesterday. That was really nice.

I've managed to get some work I can feel proud of done lately, which feels good. I just wish I could make discernable progress on the rest of the big website creation/transition/retirement that I've been working on since forever.

Maybe today.

And in case anyone's just joining this journal... here and here and here and here are other milestones on the website I've journaled about. The webmaster hat is only one of a few different hats I wear at work, and it's tough sometimes to focus on big projects when smaller urgent stuff needs doing immediately.

ETA: I wonder when it was exactly that Caltech turned into a vocation for me?
naturedance: my foot, in my boot, on Mount Rainier (bright dreams nasa)
I'm battling my standard start-of-school-year upper respiratory infection, but other than that, and being very, very busy, I'm doing well.

Last weekend I volunteered with the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships program at Caltech, for the annual SURF Seminar Day.

I talked to high school juniors and seniors and their parents about seminar day, SURF itself, and Caltech in general. Then I chaired a session in Chemistry, keeping the presentations ticking along on schedule and collaborating with the Perpall Speaking Competition judge for that session to decide who to send on to the semifinals.

It was really tough this year. There were a lot of good presentations, and many of them were very good in different ways, so it was incredibly difficult to compare them.

SURF is an amazing program, and it keeps getting bigger. There were over two hundred and twenty-five students presenting the results (or lack thereof!) of their summer research last Saturday, and there is a Summer Seminar Day for the nonCaltech SURFers and MURFers (that's Minority Undergraduate Research Fellowships) a month or so earlier that had at least a hundred and seventy-five student presentations.


SURF students write research proposals in the spring, working in conjunction with an experienced researcher in their field to formulate their project proposal. Once submitted for consideration, those proposals are reviewed, and some projects are funded by the program. Those students whose projects are funded spend ten weeks of their their summer doing original research under the encouragement of a group and a mentor, usually a Caltech professor or post-doctoral scholar, but sometimes a researcher up at JPL (that's NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory). They participate in group meetings as a full member of the research group they are working within, and the SURF program itself has lunchtime and evening events and workshops and roundtables all summer long. At the end of the summer, the students write up a technical paper and give their seminar day presentations... whether or not their project got results or worked; that's just like real world research in academia. Some lucky/industrious students usually end up publishing their work in technical journals; some students usually go to present their work at NCUR (the National Conference on Undergraduate Research) and/or at SCCUR (the Southern California Conference on Undergraduate Research).

Many students SURF the same project for more than one summer, submitting a followup proposal each year for consideration. Some students continue their summer projects either for credit as during-the-school-year independent research, or as a work-study job to help pay for their college tuition and expenses.

Most undergraduates don't get the opportunity to do this sort of original research at all; they have to wait until grad school for this sort of experience. Not at Caltech. As a friend of mine says, SURF is one of the crown jewels of the Institute. Undergraduates have a lot of energy, and their participation in the research community at Caltech gives the whole place a much different vibe than it would have otherwise.

I'm proud to have been a SURFer in '93 and '94, to have attended NCUR and given my presentation there, to have been a peer coach in '94 helping MURFers and nonCaltech SURFers prepare for their seminar day talks, and a volunteer with the program for the past few years on seminar day.

More information is here, and yes, undergraduates at other colleges may apply for the program:

February 2017

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